The violin family of instruments was believed to have been developed in Italy in the 16th century. At that time, it was named viole da braccio and was the name of the entire violin family. On the other hand, the viola family was distinguishable with the name viole de gamba.

The modern violin family consists of four instruments – the violin, cello, viola, and double bass.


What Is A Viola?

Most of the instruments in the violin family got their names from the word viola – a derivative of the Latin word ‘vitula.’ Vitula means stringed instrument. Violin means “little viola,” a violone is called bass violin or big viola, and the violoncello is a small violone.

Today, the violone is no longer part of the violin family. It is replaced by the double bass – an instrument that is a mix of the characteristics of a violin and a viola.



Characteristics Of The Violin family

The instruments of the violin family tend to overlap each other in terms of playing range, but they become distinct from each other in terms of tone quality and size. The ranges of each of them are as follows:

  • violin – G3 to E7
  • viola – C3 to A6
  • violoncello – C2 to A5
  • and double bass – E1 to C5


Both violin and the viola are played by placing them under the jaw. The viola is bigger than a violin, and its playing range reaches a fifth below that of a violin. The cello is played in between the knees while sitting down. Its playing range is an octave below that of the viola.

The double bass is played in a standing position or while sitting on a stool, and its playing range is a minor sixth – which is a ninth or an octave below that of the cello.



The Cello

The cello was developed from the bass violin, and it is a member of the viola de braccio family along with the viola and violin. The double bass, on the other hand, has an origin that is usually called to question. It is believed to be a part of the viol family due to its sloping shoulders, tuning, four strings, and flat back.

Some others point out that there is no need to question its origin since its external properties are either arbitrary or arose from a relationship other than the viol family. These suggestions point out that the internal construction of the double bass is more of the evidence needed than the external features.

These internal features include the bass bar and the soundpost, just like other violin family instruments.


String Instruments

All in all, all string instruments share a similar form, parts, function, and construction. There is no doubt that the violin resembles the viola family, but their differences are in their shape, tuning, and history. We all know that violin instruments have only four strings that are tuned in fifths to each other – except for the double bass tuned in fourths. They have four rounded bouts and no frets.

They also have a sound post and a bass bar on their inside. The viola family on the other hand usually comes with five to six strings, and they come with a fretted fingerboard. They are tuned in fourths and thirds, have sloping shoulders, and do not have a sound post or bass bar.



Now that you know the difference between a Viola and a Cello, You may also be interested in reading more on the following:

Types Of Violins – A Complete Guide for the Beginner Violinist

Violin Definition – All You Need To Know